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2.4   4x4 History - Where It All Began

Part 1: The pioneers of four-wheel drive:

The need for four-wheel drive came when the first motor vehicle got stuck on some muddy rural road. In fact, barely navigable dirt roads were the norm in turn-of-the-century America, when just one percent of the nation's roads were paved. At the dawn of the motorized era, getting to Auntie Maye's in that newfangled motor car could have become an expedition of epic proportions.

One of America's pioneers in four-wheel drive, Otto Zachow, said it best. After struggling with a Reo mired to the hubs in Wisconsin goo back in 1906, Zachow is quoted as asking, "Who ever heard of a mule who walked on just two legs?" Zachow is credited with patenting America's first practical steerable-driven front axle in 1908.

From humble beginnings, the mechanism of four-wheel drive became a valuable tool. At first, it was an expensive option for the standard 4x2 of the day. A typical early-day 4x4 cost more than double the price of a standard 4x2 car or truck. It wasn't until just after World War II that a 4x4 began to be practical for the average Joe.

If you've ever wondered how we got where we are today, this short course on 4x4 history should fill many of the gaps for you.

1824 – THE FIRST 4X4:

In 1824, Timothy Burstall and John Hill built this steam-powered four-wheel drive coach in England, featuring front wheel brakes and a walking beam engine. The Brits did it first. The 7-ton vehicle was tested in 1826 and 1827, but the low power output limited its speeds to 4 MPH. No problems were reported with the drivetrain, but the English duo's steam coach idea died quietly when the boiler exploded in 1827. The drivetrain design was used for a prototype steam locomotive.

The First 4x4

1883 – A 4X4 STEAM-TRACTION ENGINE:

Emmett Bandelier, a mechanically inclined farmer in Indiana, patented a design for a four-wheel drive steam-traction engine in 1883. These engines were beginning to see wide use on larger farms, and Bandelier's idea was to make them more capable in the dirt. The rear drive was conventional stuff for the current steam-traction engine, but a bevel gear led off from the rear to feed power to a pair of independent front axles with a differential apparatus between them. Bandelier built a 1-inch long scale model of his system to obtain the patent but no working prototypes. He let the patent lapse in 1893, and a few years later, Henry Ford used the dual axle idea in his earliest cars.

1900 – THE FIRST AMERICAN 4X4:

Charles Cotta of Rockford, Illinois, developed a steam-powered touring car that featured a chaindrive four-wheel drive system. It's uncertain how many units were built, but Cotta advertised the cars through 1902 in magazines such as the Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal, from which the ad below was taken.

Cotta Four Wheel Drive

In 1903, Cotta sold the designs and patents to the Milwaukee Four-Wheel Drive Wagon Company, which built small numbers of 4x4 cars and trucks until 1907. Cotta went on to design and manufacture truck transmissions for many years.

1900 – A PORSCHE 4X4:

In 1900, Ferdinand Porsche, originator of the Volkswagon and the Porsche sports car, was an unknown 25-year old engineer. When he was contracted to design an electric vehicle for the Lohner Electric Car Company in Vienna, Austria, he came up with a 4x4 with electric motors in each wheel hub. After some promising tests, the vehicle was rebuilt to set a world speed record by adding batteries, 4,000 total. The La Toujours Contente, as it was named, could only manage a 50 MPH maximum speed, well short of the 65.7 MPH record set by a French rig.

1903 – A 4X4 BUILT FOR SPEED:

The Spyker Carriage Works in Holland built a 4x4 race car that was the first four-wheel drive system to feature a steerable front axle. Although the setup was built primarily for holding the road, the layout matches the general setup of today. The Spyker holds the record for the first six-cylinder inline engine, which was a massive 537ci, 60hp power plant. Unlike many cars of the period, the Spyker had brakes on all four wheels. Three or four other 4x4 cars were produced by Spyker. The first car was raced successfully and did especially well in bad weather.

1904 – A 4X4 FOR THE CITY:

Starting in 1904, the Couple Gear Freight Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, built four-wheel drive electric trucks with four-wheel steering that could be operated independently. The setup was useful for maneuvering loads into tight spots by going almost sideways. The trucks were built in 1-, 2-, and 5-ton capacities, and the top speed was 8 mph for the lighter trucks and 6 mph for the 5-tonner. In 1908, a hybrid truck was built that had a gasoline generator for extra range. Couple Gear remained in business until 1922.

1904 – A DAIMLER 4X4:

In 1904, Austro-Daimler, the Austrian arm of the German Daimler Company (the ancestor of Daimler-Chrysler) built a line of 4x4 trucks in medium- and heavy-duty weight ratings. These were used by the military, and the basic chassis was used to create the first successful armored car for the Austrian Army.

1905 – CALIFORNIA DREAMIN':

Charles Van Winkle of San Joaquin, California, built a prototype 4x4 touring car in 1905. His four-wheel drive concept used a single driven shaft that connected the front and rear axles. Van Winkle sold the patents to the newly formed Stockton Four Auto Drive Company in Stockton, California, but the idea went nowhere. Van Winkle built two-wheel drive trucks in 1913 - 1914 in Atlanta, Georgia.

1906 – A TRUE AMERICAN:

In 1906, the American Motor Truck Company (1906 - 1912) built an experimental chaindrive 4x4 truck with four-wheel steering. This vehicle, owned by collector Wayne Coffman, is still in existence and shown below.

Experimental chain drive truck (Photo courtesy Wayne Coffman)
(Photo courtesy Wayne Coffman)

In 1911, the company marketed a line of similar 1-, 2-, 3-, 5-, and 10-ton 4x4 trucks. Like the prototype, the axles were a platform type and pivoted in the center, complete with springs. The trucks used horizontally opposed two- or four-cylinder engines of 20 to 60 hp and had top speeds from 8 to 15 MPH. The transmission was a two-speed, planetary design.

1906 – A COMMERCIALLY VIABLE 4X4:

Most historians give the Duplex Power Car Company the nod for the first commercially viable 4x4 in the United States. It's difficult to prove 100 percent, because Duplex's records were destroyed in a fire during the '20s. The company is still in business as Simon-Duplex and builds fire engines. The first Duplex was the ¾-ton Model B that was in production at least until 1909. After a two year production lapse, Duplex went back into production in 1913 with a totally new design, The Model B (below top) used a 14hp, two-cylinder engine mounted under the seat. The drive system used a differential mounted atop a solid-beam axle. Shafts extended to an internally toothed ring gear in the wheel, and a spur gear on the end of the axleshaft drove the wheel. This drive setup was replaced by a more conventional design by the time the '19 truck (below bottom) rolled around.

Model 'B' (top); 1919 Truck (bottom)
(Photo courtesy Simon-Duplex)

1907 – A MERCEDES 4X4:

Mercedes built small numbers of a four-wheel-drive, four-wheel-steering touring car for use by colonial administrators in East Africa. A hulking beast with disc wheels and solid rubber tires, it was powered by a 45hp engine. It was quite unlike the stylish cars being built by Mercedes at the time.

1908 – THE AMERICAN BREAKTHROUGH:

In 1908, two Wisconsin machinists, Otto Zachow and William Besserdich, built and tested a steam-powered 4x4 that broke new ground in America by debuting the first steerable, integrated front driving axle. The vehicle was powered by a cross-compound steam engine, but the drivetrain was very much like those we use today. The first tests in October 1908 showed the value of the four-wheel drive setup. The vehicle could negotiate the terrain the other three motor cars in Clintonville, Wisconsin, dared not traverse.

Zachow and Besserdich 4x4
(Photo courtesy FWD-Seagrave)

1909 – THE BATTLESHIP DEBUTS:

In 1909, the revamped Zachow/Besserdich creation became a force to be reckoned with in automotive circles. With the steam plant replaced by a 45hp Continental four-cylinder and with a gorgeous red body installed, this vehicle was the pinnacle of 4x4 performance for the day. Nicknamed the Battleship because nothing could stop it, the vehicle was tested extensively on the backroads around Clintonville. Zachow and Besserdich teamed up to form the Badger Four Wheel Drive Auto Company and hoped to offer America an automobile suitable for all types of weather and road. Badger began the production on of a line of 4x4 touring cars but ran into business problems.

The Battleship

Walter A. Olen, a Clintonville lawyer, took over the leadership of the company, and the name changed to the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company in 1910, later just FWD. A $1,000 prize was offered for any car that could follow the Battleship cross-country for 15 minutes. Hundreds of cars tried but none collected. The Battleship has survived in running condition, as has FWD.

1911 – THE U.S. ARMY'S FIRST 4X4:

After building only seven touring cars, FWD realized the market was not ripe for such a vehicle but reckoned the truck market was ready for a 4x4. No sooner had discussion begun when the company learned of a U.S. Army cross-country test. At that time, the Army owned 12 trucks. Army leadership was not sure about the new-fangled horseless carriages, but nonetheless, a test was undertaken to determine the feasibility of their use. FWD sweet-talked an Army representative, Captain A. E. Williams (seen below standing in front of the car), to the factory for a test drive.


As a result, the Army purchased one of the FWD touring cars for the test. The car was stripped of its rear body, a flatbed was added, and it was called a 1-½-ton truck. The Scout Car, as it was later known, proved the benefits of all-wheel drive by outperforming the othe/r three surviving trucks by a large margin on the eight-week, 1,500-mile winter test early in 1912. It spent most of its time dragging the other rigs though mudholes.

1911 – THE BIRTH OF A HEAVY HITTER:

The Walter Automobile Company was founded in New York in 1902 and built luxurious automobiles, including one called the Waltmobile, until 1909. At that time, cars were abandoned for trucks and the Walter Motor Truck Company was formed in New York City. The first 4x4 debuted in 1911 and was reminiscent of a French design by Latil. It used a spur-and-ring gear-axle design similar to the early Duplex and the later Jeffery/Nash Quad. Walter went on to build a succession of large 4x4 trucks that were used both commercially and by the military during WWI, WWII, and later. The Walter company remains in business today, building 4x4 trucks in upstate New York.

1912 – FWD UNVEILS ITS FIRST TRUCK:

After the successful '12 test, FWD debuted its first real trucks. These 3-ton trucks would cement the company's reputation by participating in the Army's first military maneuvers involving motor trucks. A National Guard regiment was moved from Dubuque, Iowa, to Sparta, Wisconsin. The traditional Army mule and wagon was pitted against the motor truck in field conditions. Twelve trucks participated, including the old FWD Scout Car and the prototype FWD 3-ton Model B shown below.

Prototype 3-ton Model B

One other 4x4 was in the group, a Kato, built in Mankato, Minnesota. but it proved largely unsuccessful in the Army's eyes. The Model B earned high praise in the test. FWD's first 3-ton Model B, along with its first 1-½-ton Model G, have survived in the FWD Museum.

1913 – THE FIRST QUAD DEBUTS:

In 1913, the Thomas B. Jeffery Company debuted a prototype four-wheel-drive, four-wheel-steer 2-ton truck it called the Quad. The truck went into production in 1914, and with WWI just beginning in Europe, it was just in time to be snapped up by the British, French, and Russian armies as well as by the U.S. Army in small numbers. In 1916, the Thomas B. Jeffery Company was sold to Nash, and the Quad became the Nash Quad. It was built and sold in large numbers during WWI, but sales trickled after 1919,and the Quad went out of production in 1928. Shown below is a '19 Nash-built Quad.

1919 Nash quad

1915 – THE FIRST JIMMY 4X4:

In 1915, the fledgling General Motors Truck Company built an experimental 4x4 version of its 2-ton truck. It would not produce another until the mid-'30s.

1911 ’ BIRTH OF A HEAVYWEIGHT:

In 1917, the Oshkosh Motor Truck Company was formed out of the Wisconsin Duplex company that had begun earlier. The two founders were none other than William Besserdich, one of the founders of FWD, and Bernhard Mosling, also lately of FWD. Their first 4x4, nicknamed Old Betsy, was an advanced design, featuring pneumatic tires and an automatic locking center differential. Oshkosh built a number of trucks in the 1- to 3-ton range into the '20s, but it eventually specialized in really big all-wheel-drive trucks and has prospered to the present day. Old Betsy has survived and is shown in the top of the following photo, and the Oshkosh Model A is in bottom of the following photo.

'Old Betsy' (top); Oshkosh Model A (bottom)

When it debuted in 1918, the Model A was the most advanced production 4x4 truck in the world.

1922 – A COLORADO 4X4:

American Coleman started business in 1922 and produced its first truck in 1925 from its Littleton, Colorado, factory. Specializing in larger 4x4s, Coleman got into the light-truck business in 1947 by converting Chevy trucks to four-wheel drive. Eventually, it converted all makes of light trucks, but it phased out that operation by 1956 after seeing the trend toward factory-produced light 4x4s. Coleman remained in business until 1986. A late '20s era Coleman is shown in the top of the following photo, and a '53 Chevy Coleman ¾-ton conversion is in the bottom of the following photo.

Late '20s era Coleman (top); 1953 Chevy Coleman ¾-ton conversion (bottom)

1923 – THE SECOND BRITISH 4X4:

Although FWD had a British outlet that eventually became AEC (Associated Equipment Company), Thomycroft assembled Britain's first home-built 4x4s as an artillery tractor. It used four-wheel-drive components from captured German WWI Daimlers.

1931 – A BENCHMARK BEGINS:

That year, Walter Marmon and Arthur Herrington formed Marmon-Herrington. To start, they built 1-½-ton trucks of their own design, but in 1935, they switched to converting Ford-based trucks to 4x4s. You'll read more about them in 1936. Marmon-Herrington remains in business.

1932 – THE FIRST JAPANESE 4X4?:

Mitsubishi introduced a heavy 4x4 command car called the X-33.

1934 – DODGE GOES 4X4:

Dodge built its first 4x4 truck in the form of the K39x4USA (bottom below). This 1-½-ton truck used the standard '34 Dodge truck line as a basis but featured a Timken-built front axle and transfer case. This Timken transfer case was the first to offer a part-time position for the transfer case and let the front axle freewheel. A similar truck (upper below photo) was made in 1938 and called the RF-40x-4USA. Both trucks were very successful and put Dodge on the 4x4 map.

RF-40x-4USA (top); K39x4USA (bottom)

1935 – JAPAN'S FIRST LIGHT 4X4:

The tiny Kurogane debuted. The midget Scout car, about the size of a Samurai but looking like a shrunken '35 Ford, was first built by Rikuo and Toyota but later by the Nippon Nainenki Seiko Company.

1935 – ANOTHER JIMMY 4X4:

GMC introduced a prototype 1-½-ton 4x4 military truck called the 4772. It was the first of a line of heavier trucks that dominated the front lines of WWII.

GMC prototype 1-½-ton 4x4 military truck; the 4772

This prototype used Chevrolet sheetmetal with a General Motors Truck emblem on the hood. It also mounted a Chevy 207ci Stovebolt six instead of GMC's own 228ci unit.

1936 – THE LIGHT-DUTY 4X4 ERA BEGINS:

After a request from the Belgian government, Marmon-Herrington developed a 4x4 variant of the Ford ½-ton pickup (top photo below).

Ford ½-ton pickup

Often called The Granddaddy of the Jeep, it proved a valuable step in the evolution of the light-duty 4x4. By the next year, M-H was converting most of the Ford line including the cars. By the end of the '30s, M-H had produced a lot of light 4x4s, but so had other companies such as Dodge.

1939 – THE FIRST LIGHT-DUTY GMC 4X4:

The ACK-101 was GMC's entrance into the light-duty 4x4 wars of the late '30s. While a good truck, it was not successful in beating out Dodge for the big ½-ton 4x4 military contract of 1940. GMC didn't suffer, building some 500,000 trucks for WWII.

ACK-101

1939 – DODGE LEADS THE LIGHT-DUTY RACE:

With the late-year introduction of the VC Series Dodges, a nearly 30-year domination of the light-duty military market began. These first 4x4 ½-tons were based upon civilian 1-ton 4x2 designs for military use.

VC Series Dodge

They were built in command car, pickup, and carry-all body styles. Production VCs were built in 1940. These Dodges were often called Jeeps by Gls.

1940 – A NEW ERA BEGINS:

In September 1940, Bantam introduced the first ¼-ton 4x4 to the Army. Built of a hodgepodge of outside-sourced parts and Bantam car leftovers, it set a new standard for 4x4 performance. The Army went ape. Later to be known as the Jeep, this type of vehicle broke new ground in the 4x4 world and started the general public on a love affair that has carried on to this day. Although Bantam only produced a little more than 2,600 similar ¼-tons before being pushed aside by Willys, Ford, and the U.S. government, it is the true originator of this class of vehicle.

Bantam ¼-ton 4x4

Part 2: The golden years:

(Prescript - The two words jeep and Jeep are distinctly different...The uppercase J signifies a trademarked vehicle built by Willys et al. Technically, the trademark applies after the '50 trademark date, but generally, civilian rigs built from 1945 use the uppercase J too, as do postwar militaries built by Willys et at. The lowercase j is reserved for wartime jeeps built by Willys, Bantam, or Ford.)

Part one ended with the introduction of the Bantam pilot model in 1940. This development, perhaps more than any other, started the Golden Age of 4x4s. The Bantam vehicle spurred a competitive development that yielded one of the most beloved vehicles of all time-the American Jeep. Not only was a new class of vehicle created, but it captured the imagination of the American public. It also inspired a large number of other vehicle manufacturers to build their own versions.

Willys-Overland wasted no time in perfecting the Jeep for civilian use and at the same time building a company around the utility of four-wheel-drive vehicles. From the end of World War II, the popularity of 4x4s snowballed. First it was a workhorse, then a part-time toy, and finally a multipurpose vehicle used both for transportation and fun. Work was not forgotten either, with many commercial applications. It took a while to catch on, but catch on it did, and now in many parts of the United States and the world, you can't get run over in the street except by a 4x4.

1940 – FORD ½-TON 4X4S:

Ford's GC ½-ton truck program definitely predated the company's GP ¼-ton developments.

Ford GC ½-ton truck

It probably also predated Bantam's ¼-ton idea, because the competition for the ½-ton contract started as early as 1939. Ford unsuccessfully entered several ½-ton prototypes in two body styles, including pickups and a command car. A 1-½-ton cargo truck was also produced. Some were fitted with the then-new 226ci flathead six, and others had the quintessential Ford flathead V-8.

1940 – IHC'S FIRST 4X4:

International Harvester contributed to the war effort with this prototype in 1940 and succeeded in procuring a contract to build ½- and 1-ton 4x4s for the Marine Corps.

International Harvester 4x4

This test unit appeared to use body parts from a number of IHC vehicles then in production. Under the skin, this Binder used the best IHC had in production at the time, including the 21.3 OHC Green Diamond six-cylinder engine.

1940 – QUAD:

Willys entered the ¼-ton race with an ace-high hand, namely the powerful 60 HP Go-Devel engine.

Willys ¼-ton

While its first entrant, named the Quad, had many cosmetic features the Army did not like, it outpowered the competition by a big margin and had a stout chassis and drivetrain to boot. The best mechanical features of the Quad translated well into the MA and MB incarnations that followed. Two Quads were built, but neither are known to have survived past the early '50s.

1940 – THE PYGMY:

According to Ford, the Pygmy was the company's "better idea" in the ¼-ton 4x4 realm. It was turned over to the Army on November 23, 1940, after a development process headed up by Ford Engineer Dale Roeder. Ford actually built two identical chassis, kept one in house, and sent one to Budd for a body. The two bodies ended up being quite different, and the Army liked the Ford version best. In fact, the style was highly praised for its overall layout and quality of construction. However, its converted model-NA tractor engine did not fill the bill from either a power or a reliability standpoint. Strangely, both the Ford- and Budd-bodied prototypes have survived.

1941 – STANDARDIZED ¼-TONS:

In 1941, improved models came from Bantam, Willys, and Ford, These models were called the BRC-40, the MA, and the GP, respectively. They tested with actual Army units and, for the first time, against each other directly. The Army ordered 1,500 from each manufacturer, but additional orders brought Ford up to nearly 4,500 GPs and Bantam to more than 2,600 BRC-40s. Only a handful of each have survived.

Prestandardized ¼-ton

1941 – NEW MILITARY DODGES:

The ½-ton WC series Dodges were very similar to the earlier VC-series units but had more military-looking sheetmetal. Some 80,000 were built from early 1941 to early 1942, with a number of upgrades along the way. These trucks became the first Dodges to be frontline combat rigs.

1941 Dodge WC-21 Weapons Carrier

Most, however, were relegated to rear echelon duties when they were replaced by the ¾-ton units in 1942. Shown above is a '41 WC-21 weapons carrier.

1941 – PRODUCTION JEEPS:

Willys scored the first big jeep contract from the government in 1941 and started to produce the MB late that year. The first MBs were called Slat Grilles because of their welded front grille. In mid 1942, the more familiar stamped-grille Willys emerged. Early in 1942, Ford's vast production capacity was tapped to produce the GPW model. This was a Ford version of the Willys design. There were minor differences, but all the parts interchanged. Willys produced 361,339 MB-model jeeps in WWII, and Ford ponied up with 278,000. Shown below is a '44 MB.

1944 MB

1941 – MARINES GET IHCS:

IHC missed out on the big Army contracts but hit with the Marine Corps and Navy. The IHC M-I-4 ½-ton and M-2-4, 1-ton both served with distinction in the Pacific theater, where the Marines bore the brunt of the land battles. Both trucks were similar though most M-1-4s used the 213ci Green Diamond Engine and M-2-4s had the bigger 233ci Red Diamond. Other differences included 7.50-16 tires on the lighter rig and 9.00-16s on the bigger.

IHC 4x4

1942 – DODGE BEEPS:

The ¾-ton Dodge WC-series trucks came in a variety of body types, including weapons carriers, ambulances, carryalls, telephone maintenance, and even a 6x6 1-½-ton variant. They were almost as popular as the jeep and were produced in vary large numbers through late 1945. As mentioned previously, the first Dodges also bore the jeep nickname. By the time the ¾-tons came around, the ¼-tons had inherited the name. The Dodges then acquired the name Beep (for big-jeep) among many GIs.

1944 – FIRST CIVVY JEEP:

By early 1944, Willys had caught up enough on wartime developments and production to get a start on the civilian jeep. A large number of prototypes were built, including the CJ-1 and CJ-2 models. The CJ-1s were modified military rigs, while the CJ-2s were built from the ground up as civvy rigs but shared some military components. These prototypes were tested extensively all over the United States.

1944 CJ-2 AgriJeep

Shown above is a '44 CJ-2 AgriJeep, the ninth of approximately 45 prototype CJ-2s built.

1945 – THE FIRST PRODUCTION CJ:

The CJ-2A that debuted in late 1945 had all the best features of a military jeep, but in almost every way, it was a superior machine. It had a stronger drivetrain, better suspension, beefier chassis, and more features than the Spartan MB. Despite the thousands of surplus GI jeeps on the market, the CJ-2A sold very well. The similar-but-better CJ-3A debuted in 1949, and the CJ-3B high-hood came in 1953 and lasted more than a decade. Shown below is a very early production '46 CJ-2A still in original paint and equipped with a factory tow rig.

Very early production 1946 CJ-2A

1946 – POWER WAGON:

Just like Willys-Overland, Dodge used the success of the WWII military rigs as the basis for a civilian commercial 4x4. The Power Wagon added greatly to the beef of the GI rig and threw in some creature comforts such as a closed cab, padded seats, a heater, and even a bit of chrome. Essentially, the same truck was produced from 1946 through to 1971, with a few produced as late as 1978. American buyers could acquire the old-style Power Wagon as late as 1968. Shown below is a '68 WM-300 Power Wagon.

1968 WM-300 Power Wagon

1948 – GO ANYWHERE, DO ANYTHING:

Like many auto manufacturers in England, the Rover Company was hard hit by the financial stresses of the postwar period. While searching for a stopgap measure to stay afloat, it was inspired by the wartime jeep. After building a center-steer prototype that used many jeep parts, it designed a 4x4 of its own, called it a Land Rover, and the rest is history. Land Rover became one of the most enduring and best-loved 4x4 marques of the world.

1948 pre-production Land Rover 80

Shown above is a '48 pre-production Land Rover 80.

1948 – JEEP 4X4 STATION WAGON:

Jeep had debuted the All Steel Station Wagon in 1946 but only as a 4x2. The Jeep pickup truck debuted the same year in four- and two-wheel drive. For 1949, the Wagons came either way, but once the four-wheel option was made available, they began outselling the two-wheelers by four to one. This body style was offered all the way to the '65 model year, with the last two years along-side the sleek Wagoneer.

1949 lineup with the 4x4 in the center

Shown above is the '49 lineup with the 4x4 in the center.

1951 – TOYOTA 4X4:

Toyota had designed a ¼-ton 4x4 rig during WWII called the AK-10. Inspired by captured American jeeps, the vehicle didn't make it to production before the war ended. By 1951, Toyota had begun to produce a small 4x4 it called the BJ.

Toyota BJ

For a time, it even had the nerve to label it a jeep in sales literature. Once the rules of trademarked names were pointed out, the BJ eventually evolved into the Land Cruiser.

1951 – NISSAN 4X4:

Nissan's 4W-60 was the ancestor of the later Patrol models and marked the beginning of Nissan's entry into the postwar commercial light-4x4 market. As with many other rigs of the period, it was very Jeep-like in appearance.

Nissan 4W-60

The Nissan 4x4s soon evolved into a unique look of their own.

1953 – IHC'S CIVVY 4X4:

Even after its success in producing the WWII-era Marine Corps 4x4 trucks, IHC waited until 1953 to produce 4x4 civvy trucks. The R-line 4x4 trucks debuted that year and were offered until mid-1955. Some 2,000 medium-duty R-140 and R-160 trucks were produced in that time, and two R-120 4x4 trucks (¾-ton) were built from 1953 to mid-1955.

1955 – CJ UPGRADES:

The Jeep CJ line got its first major upgrade late in 1954 for the 1955 model year. While mechanically similar to the flatfenders, the CJ-5 was larger, more comfortable, and more stylish.

1954 Prototype CJ-5

Later in 1955, the long-wheelbase CJ-6 was introduced. The CJ-5 was produced until 1983 and the CJ-6 until 1981 (1976 for domestic use). The round-fender CJs evolved from the military M-38A1, which had debuted in 1952. That military rig had evolved from the development of the more powerful F-head four-cylinder engine and the need to fit this engine in the ¼-ton chassis. Shown above is a prototype CJ-5 built in 1954.

1956 – GMC OFFERS A 4X4:

GMC lists its first civilian 4x4 for the '56 model year. These trucks incorporated four-wheel-drive hardware from NAPCO (Northwestern Auto Parts Company), which had been a leading and successful builder of conversion kits for Chevy and GMC trucks since 1950. Instead of being installed at the dealer or at NAPCO in Minneapolis, the kits were installed on the factory assembly line sans the NAPCO badging. Unlike the Chevies that debuted a year later, the Jimmys were available with V-8s and Hydramatics. The four-wheel drive option was available in trucks as well as Suburbans.

1957 – DODGE 4X4 IN CIVVYS:

Dodge had created a legend in WWII and had maintained it with the Power Wagon. By 1957, the number three truck maker realized some pizazz was needed. Four-wheel drive hardware was added to the civilian-style Forward Look trucks in 1957. They could come with V-8s and automatics as well as just about any other goodie available in the rest of the truck line. This bucked the normal trend of austere 4x4 trucks. The 4x4 option was available in trucks and the Town Wagon and later in the Town Panel. Very similar trucks were produced until 1961.

1957 W-100 V-8 model

Shown above is a '57 W-100 V-8 model.

1957 – CHEVY OFFERS 4X4:

Chevrolet debuted its 4x4 for the '57 model year. Unlike GMC, Chevy offered it only with a six. Like GMC, the 4x4 hardware was from NAPCO and was installed on the assembly line. Shown below is a '57 Chevrolet 3100 short-wheelbase 4x4 pickup undergoing tests.

1957 Chevrolet 3100 short-wheelbase 4x4 pickup

Chevy debuted 4x4s from factory-sourced parts in 1960. A 4x4 Chevy Suburban was also an option.

1958 – TOYOTA 4X4 IN AMERICA:

The Land Cruiser came to the United States late in 1958 in the form of the FJ-25. The FJ-25 had been introduced in Japan in 1954. After just over a year in the market, the FJ-40 replaced it in 1960. Only 63 FJ-25s were sold here.

1957 vintage FJ-25 in Japanese trim including right-hand drive

Shown above is a '57 vintage FJ-25 in Japanese trim including right-hand drive.

1959 – FACTORY BUILT 4X4 FORDS:

From 1935 through 1958, Ford had been marketing Marmon-Herrington four-wheel drive conversions of Ford's trucks based on a handshake agreement. For 1959, Ford offered factory-built F-100 and F-250 trucks in four-wheel drive, with the axles and T-cases sourced from Spicer. This marked the beginning of a new era of 4x4 trucks for Ford. The '59 and '60 models were nearly identical. Shown below is a '60 F-250 with 19.5-inch wheels.

1960 F-250 with 19.5-inch wheels

1961 – SCOUTING AHEAD:

International Harvester shook up the light-duty 4x4 world a bit when it debuted the Scout in 1961. Tough and capable, the Scout offered something the others didn't—a modicum of comfort. The Scout was one of Ford's major incentives to develop the Bronco and proved to be a role model for the Blazer and the Range Rover. The Scout went through a couple of evolutions and finally died of corporate neglect in 1980 despite a loyal following.

1964 Scout 80

Shown above is a '64 Scout 80.

1962 – PATROLLING AMERICA:

The Nissan Patrol was introduced to Americans late in 1961 and lasted through 1969. In most ways, it was superior to the American '62 contemporaries, but over the long run, it suffered from a case of neglect. Its downfall was the American Datsun dealer network that gave it short shrift while touting the little Datsun (built by Nissan) cars. The Patrol was good enough to have made a big impact had it been marketed well. Shown below is a '65 Nissan Patrol.

1965 Nissan Patrol

1966 – BUCKIN' BRONCO:

The Bronco took the growing recreational light-4x4 by the horns (pun intended) when it debuted late in 1965. It wasn't quite a truck and wasn't quite a station wagon, but it had the best features of both with the bonus of four-wheel drive. When the V-8 option appeared early in 1966, the Bronco became the first American compact 4x4 to feature a V-8. It sold like hotcakes. Production of this style of Bronco ended in l977.

1966 early-production six-cylinder Bronco

Shown above is a '66 early-production six-cylinder Bronco.

1969 – BLAZING AHEAD:

GM definitely saved its best for last. After watching the Scout and Bronco, it went a step further with the Blazer. It shortened its ½-ton truck, added a removable station-wagon-type roof, and immediately created a cost-effective hit. The tooling costs must have been low, because the Blazer used mostly GM truck pieces. The Blazer was much larger than the Scout or the Bronco and had ½-ton running gear to boot. This sleek body style lasted though the '72 year.

1970 – RANGE ROVER:

Land Rover had tried a number of more comfortable alternatives to its utility rigs. These ideas dated back as far as 1948, but none had been successful. The Range Rover combined an aluminum V-8, four-wheel disc brakes, supple coil springs, a stylish aluminum body with a state-of-the-art full-time four-wheel-drive system. Although today the name Range Rover is synonymous with luxury, the first Range Rovers were more understated than ritzy. This classy body style lasted until 1996. Shown below is a '70 Range Rover.

1970 Range Rover

Information courtesy of and © Four Wheeler; used with permission

Frame last updated: January 11, 2009
Frame layout version: March 2009